Class of 2017 – Every Day Lessons from Pahoa School

Class of 2017 – Every Day Lessons from Pahoa School

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Pähoa High School’s graduating Class of 2017. (Photo courtesy Pähoa High School)

Photo of Frances Kakugawa giving her commencement address to Pähoa High School’s 2017 graduating class

Class of ’53 Alum Returns to Address 2017 Grads

Frances H. Kakugawa
Published with Permission

Editor’s note: Pähoa School alum and Hawai‘i Herald columnist Frances Kakugawa was invited to deliver the commencement address for her alma mater’s Class of 2017 graduating class. The school graduated about 75 students in ceremonies held May 21 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. Frances shared the text of her speech with me and, with her permission, I am sharing it with you.

Ah, Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again.

Sixty-three years ago, I sat in the bleachers in the old Pähoa School gym to receive my diploma. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be standing here. Class of 2017 . . . thank you for this honor and for bringing me home again.

To you, the graduating class, to parents, grandparents, families and friends, teachers and staff of Pähoa School and to our distinguished guests, it’s a privilege to be addressing you today.

I’m feeling very close to my years at Pähoa School, so instead of the usual commencement speeches on how this is the first day of the rest of your life kind of talk, I’m going to tell you about all the dumb and stupid things I did and how they became the most important lessons. They were the ones that really took me down the road I’ve traveled since my high school years.

Yes, I grew up in Kapoho, where we had outhouses without electricity and indoor plumbing. That outhouse, smelly as it was, was my place of refuge. It was there that I escaped to to read and get away from doing chores. No one would dare call me a second time when I would yell out, “I stay in the toilet.”

When I went to Pähoa School as a seventh grader, we still had outhouses at the school. In fact, I left more than memories at Pähoa School.

I dropped my first pair of eyeglasses in the Pähoa School outhouse. When I lifted my jacket, my glasses fell into the toilet. And it’s still there. Now that jacket, a brown corduroy jacket, was my uniform. I wore that every day to hide my undeveloped body from the boys who would whisper, “Eh, Washboard,” at my flat chest. We were all politically correct in those days because life was simpler and boys were just called rascals.

I was once suspended from fifth grade for writing a nasty letter about my teacher written all in colorful Pidgin. No, I didn’t think of swallowing the note.

And then there was the time I got caught chewing gum in class in high school. Gum chewing was a big offense.

When the teacher asked if I was chewing gum, I got my gum and tossed it out the door. Just as I tossed the gum out, the principal and the district superintendent came to the door and my gum fell on the principal’s shoe. I was so sure I was going to be suspended again. But the principal, without saying a word, pointed to his shoe and then to the trash can. I hurried to his shoe, picked up the gum and threw it in the trash can. He nodded and they walked away. I was lucky he didn’t step on it.

Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, she now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and teacher and her personal experiences as her mother’s caregiver to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses, including one for children. Frances is a highly sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with caregiving.

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